Speaking of diversity in the newsroom, yesterday marked the end of a 50-year-plus, daily media career which is as legendary as it is groundbreaking. That is why my letter this week goes to the Grande Dame of Media who helped open the doors for so many women.
Dear Barbara Walters,
It’s me, Melissa.
Your send-off on Friday’s “The View” brought out the likes of former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, actor Michael Douglas, and Oprah. And while it was nice to see the uber-famous come out and toast your career, it was really lovely to see salutes from the 25 women broadcasters, from every major network – including NBC’s own Savannah Guthrie, Tamron Hall, and Hoda and Kathie Lee – whose careers are among the many you’ve influenced.
It is particularly fitting since your talents have graced every major network since 1961 – when you moved from local TV to the big time at NBC’s “Today” as a researcher and writer. It was at NBC where you lobbied for the first of your “big gets” – with first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. You were chosen to travel as part of the press corps with President Nixon on his historic trip to China.
And because of your skill and tenacity, you would go from being known as the “ ‘Today’ girl” to earning the official title of “Today” host in 1974 – and won your first Daytime Emmy the next year, in ‘75.
In 1976, you made history by becoming the first woman to co-anchor a network evening news program when you moved over to ABC. That was the same year you moderated the presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and incumbent president Gerald Ford – and started the first of a series of Barbara Walters specials, where you would redefine “getting the get” and conducted the first joint interview with the Israeli prime minister and the Egyptian president.
When you joined ABC’s “20/20,” your “gets” kept getting bigger, when you exclusively interviewed former president Richard Nixon in 1980.And your two-hour exclusive interview with Monica Lewinsky in 1999 became the highest-rated news program ever broadcast on a single network. The list doesn’t stop there: Thatcher, Gadhafi, Castro, just to name a few. In 2000, you smashed the glass ceiling when you reportedly renewed your contract with ABC News for $12 million, making you the highest-paid host in history.
But it was what you did in 1997 that serves as an example of your efforts to have women front and center: you created “The View,” a space that allowed five women to talk about politics, family, and careers so wildly successful that it is fast approaching the 20-year mark.
You made it cool to be fearless in an industry that is male-dominated. You made it cool to be boss. But most importantly, you made it cool to be authentically yourself. While you are not about to go off into the sunset, you are about to take a well-deserved rest. But before you go, as a woman who has benefited from the doors you’ve opened: Thank you.